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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin Breaks Her Silence

Jan 12th, 2011

by F. Grey Parker

Sarah Palin has finally issued a formal statement regarding the murder of six Americans and the wounding of 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) 4 days ago. 

She had the chance to help bridge the growing divide over the meaning of the tragedy, if any, and rise above the ugliness and the cacophony of both the Left and Right shrieking "you are worse than we." She failed.

The argument made by her defenders in the wake of the shooting (and the ensuing pundit's donnybrook over her purported culpability) has been that the horrific mass murder was obviously not her fault. Nor, they maintain, was it the fault of her rhetoric over the past few years however strident it may have been. Indeed, I would agree that this tragedy is not really about her. And yet, from early within the second minute of her statement, she seems wholly focused on herself. Mrs. Palin says, "If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas, But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should non manufacture a blood libel." 

That she litters her statement with phony pronouncements of historical knowledge while using these words tells us two things; First, Mrs. Palin knows very little of history generally. Second, she is clueless as to the specific history of "blood libel" as the words pertain to the tragic experience of the Jewish people over the last several centuries. It is grimly ironic that she would attempt to deflect the power of rhetoric by invoking rhetoric which was used to foment literal acts of violence on the Semitic population in Europe over hundreds of years. Indeed, so wrong was her use of this language that ultra-conservative Jonah Goldberg as well as Howard Kurtz, both of whom have defended her from the Left in recent days, came out first in condemnation.

The primary theme of her statement is not one of solidarity with the victims or the American people. Rather, it is a continuation of her meme that words don't really matter. Or, at the very least, that we shouldn't criticize her words. She chides that we Americans "settle our differences respectfully." Coming from a woman who has repeatedly used the phrase "death panels" to describe a regressive tax provision in the Health Care Reform Act, I can only wonder what the hell she would find disrespectful? Other than people criticizing her generally.

Mrs. Palin could not have spoken in a less Presidential manner in spite of the window dressing. This was not the time for her to "score points." This was not the time to single out specific Democratic legislation for scorn (6:15 in the video), no matter how stupid the proposal might be. This was not the time to trot out the old tut-tut about how politicians in days of old used to settle their differences with "dueling pistols." It was most certainly not the correct moment to demonstrate that she was thinking of herself.

Many of us have criticized her consistently for the use of weaponized language for two straight years. We did not suddenly find her tactics offensive after the shooting, regardless of those on my side of the aisle who indeed lashed out in grief and anger. To dismiss these critiques now as the "shrill cries of imagined insults" is beneath her. The very reason she became the issue, however unfair, was that she has been so cravenly irresponsible. The Left did not manufacture a theory of her having influenced this terrible event in a vacuum. 

She has used this moment not to rise above the partisan divide or to build bridges but to throw meat to her base. What's worse, she dresses it in the classic language of "our traditions" and makes sure to bring up "Reagan." Having the opportunity to atone for essentially spending the last two years "yelling fire" in the theater of American political debate, Mrs Palin instead uses tragedy to buttress her defenses.

It is, to put it politely, disgusting. That some on the Right are already using Sarah's statement to preemptively attack the President's speech expected later today is equally repulsive. Over at Red State, they sneeringly write: 

"Mister President, here’s the bar that you have to clear. It’s a high one. A much higher one than your attendants are telling you that it is. They are almost certainly telling you to concentrate on the ‘blood libel’ comment - which, by the way, will immediately resonate with at least 40% of the population of the country, mostly because it is darned accurate"

Really? Is that what's most important here?  As I have noted above, its not The President's loyalists who have seized upon the inappropriateness of this. It is those who have been most stridently defensive on Palin's behalf. And so, after a speech predicated on "personal responsibility," what we are left with is her denial of any responsibility for anything. 

I believe it is time to put the past few days in an actual historical context. We have failed to learn the lessons of assumption before. I regrettably predict we will fail to learn any lessons here. After the Oklahoma City bombing 15 years ago, it was the American Right that immediately jumped to the conclusion that the attack simply had to be of Middle Eastern origin. Indeed, prior to the arrest of Timothy McVeigh, they railed at how naive it was for those on the Left to suggest it was too early to assess blame. As the truth finally emerged in those dark days, I found myself arguing with many of my fellow liberals and progressives that they were being somewhat elitist in their scorn of the Right. Just as I would attempt to impress upon the conservatives now, yes, it was wrong for so many to rush to judgement but it is the natural reaction for human beings to attempt to impose order when confronted with terrifying chaos. Also, based on the climate of the time, the assumptions made an awful lot of sense

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